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Friday April 25, 2014 MYT 5:05:00 PM
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Prince William and his wife Catherine chat next to the poppy flower-lined WWI Wall of Remembrance during their visit to the Australian National War Memorial on ANZAC Day in Canberra.-AFP
CANBERRA: Britain's Prince William and wife Kate on Friday wrapped up their tour Down Under, which has drawn crowds in the thousands, after a surprise visit to a dawn service for Australian soldiers lost in war.
On their final day the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were among tens of thousands at events marking ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, a tribute to soldiers past and present.
The day marks the April 25, 1915 landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in modern-day Turkey and has become a defining symbol of courage and comradeship for both countries.
"I said to them, it means a great deal to our nation that you should honour us by attending the dawn service," said Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson.
"...without hesitation they had an immense sense of pride in actually being here. But in the end... it's not about the royals, it's not about the governor general... it's about the men and women we honour."
Afterwards, the couple kept to their schedule, attending a commemorative service at the Australian War Memorial which drew an estimated 37,000 people.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch monarchist who recently reintroduced the titles of knights and dames, spoke of the connection between Britain and its former colony Australia at the event.
"Long ago, we ceased to regard Britain as the mother country but we're still family," he said. "Your presence, Sir, reminds us of all our comrades-in-arms. These are the ties that bind. Lest we forget."
Abbott said the events at Gallipoli almost a century ago, in which more than 10,000 Australian and New Zealand servicemen lost their lives, still cast a shadow.
"The First World War impacted Australia like nothing before or since," he said, noting that from a population of about five million, 417,000 Australians enlisted and more than 60,000 never returned home.
After three FA-18 Hornets flew overhead the royal couple placed small posies of rosemary and Australian native flowers on the verge of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Kate, who has impressed with her wardrobe choice on the tour, wore a grey tweed coat dress, midnight blue headpiece, and a poppy brooch given to her by the wife of Australian Victorian Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith.
Anzac Day is a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand, with tens of thousands attending sombre dawn services and parades to mark the occasion.
In New Zealand a dawn march in Wellington was led by returned servicemen and women dressed in replicas of 1914 New Zealand infantry uniforms, the brainchild of Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson.
"The soldiers got into it, wearing the kit of their forebears," Jackson said.
The visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which began in Wellington on April 7, ended in Canberra with the family boarding a Royal Australian Air Force plane for the short journey to Sydney, where they were to catch their connecting flight to Britain.
George had delighted crowds during his visit to Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo to see Australia's unique wildlife last weekend, and earlier during a playdate with other children in New Zealand.
He was once again in the arms of his mother, watched by spectators at the airport.
"I hope to see them back again. They've definitely brought some life back into the royals," said well-wisher Nicolette Ellis. - AFP
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